Improving digital connectivity must be the country’s top infrastructure project with broadband installed in all homes in the same way as water and a power supply, an MP has warned.
Tatton MP Esther McVey said it was no longer a luxury but a necessity and called for an end to the digital postcode lottery.
Speaking in a debate she secured in Parliament on digital connectivity, she urged Government to reinstate its promise of gigabit capability by 2025 after Chancellor Rishi Sunak cut the financial support from £5 billion to £1.2billion in his financial statement last month.
Ms McVey said: “Reliable online connection isn’t just nice to have, it is a necessity. Even prior to the pandemic, the country’s digital infrastructure needed improving and upgrading. The industry boasts that 96 per cent of the country has at least 24Mbps capability, but this is a million miles away from where we need to be as a country that figure needs to be 1000Mbps not 24.
''Being online is now crucial to everything we do and this pandemic has deepened the accessibility divide with many children and families not having access to internet and we must commit to this and make it the country’s top infrastructure project.”
Ms McVey wants broadband categorised as essential in the same way water and an electricity or gas supply is to ensure it is available in all homes.
She added: “My constituents rightly say quality of life is now dependent on internet access and in parts of Tatton my constituents are being told by BT and Openreach that their properties simply do not qualify for commercial rollout of broadband. They are told their homes are too far away from a cabinet and installation is too difficult and expensive to be delivered as part of the Universal Service offer. It means broadband accessibility can vary from street to street depending on the location of the box. By recognising broadband as a utility, all new homes will automatically be built with the superfast internet. Furthermore, telecoms providers will be permitted to install broadband into pre-existing premises in the same way a water provider would be permitted to install water pipes.”
Ms McVey gave examples of problems across all areas of the constituency with speeds and access, including a retired Wilmslow GP working on a Covid helpline struggling to maintain a connection due to location of boxes, a resident in Knutsford who has called Openreach out 64 times in seven years due to faulty broadband and a constituent in Mobberley facing problems with speeds of just 2megabits per second.
Setting out the case to reallocate the £3.8 billion into digital infrastructure Ms McVey added: “Improving our digital infrastructure will generate a virtuous cycle of economic and health benefits for this country. I know money is tight but we must deliver on our manifesto promise of gigabit capability. I know my constituents would prioritise this over HS2 every day of the week.”
Digital minister Matt Warman said Government was committed to delivering 1gb speeds “as soon as possible” and there was “no more important job that Government was tackling” given how vital connectivity was to education, accessing medical appointments and seeing relatives in these times. He also agreed to meet with Ms McVey to discuss the matter further.
It is estimated more than 10,000 jobs would be created delivering the infrastructure and a further 1.2 million skilled jobs by 2025.
After meeting with BT last week Ms McVey was told latest figures showed just six per cent of homes and businesses across the constituency have access to full fibre broadband, the service which can provide 1 gigabit capability.